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Shed 26 battle ends with a bang and a whimper

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A grassroots fight to save a rare remnant of Port Adelaide working waterfront history has been lost, with Shed 26 demolished today.

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A demolition crew moved onto the Semaphore Rd site this morning and began to destroy the distinctive sawtooth building, bringing an end to a three-month battle by Port Adelaide community activists to have it adapted for modern use.

The fight brought into focus the ongoing debate between revitalising the once-bustling Port waterfront with new housing and residents, and retaining some of its working and architectural heritage.

Shed 26 was built in 1956 on what used to be Glanville Dock, part of the Government Dock which once employed hundreds, but which closed in 1988.

Perth-based developer Cedar Woods will now build housing on the site, as part of a greater Fletcher’s Slip development it successfully tendered for in 2016.

Cedar Woods’ original concept plans showed Shed 26, intact and refurbished among new housing – a plan which remained on the Renewal SA website in April this year.

But on November 18 last year, State Government agency Renewal SA transferred Shed 26 to Cedar Woods, for $2.

Two weeks later on December 6, the SA Heritage Council provisionally listed Shed 26 on the SA Heritage Register, to enable a full assessment by Heritage South Australia.

On March 22, the SA Heritage Council voted to support the permanent state heritage listing of Shed 26, finding that it met four criteria for state heritage.

But Environment Minister David Speirs stepped in, asking the council to defer any decision on permanent listing while he considered whether to use his power under the Heritage Places Act to scrap it.

On April 17, Spiers directed the council to remove Shed 26 from the SA State Heritage Register.

On April 29, Cedar Woods fenced off the site so contractor The Old Red Brick Co could demolish the shed.

Port Adelaide residents and Save Shed 26 campaigners said they felt “conned”.

“When Cedar Woods were awarded the contract (in) 2016, they and the government itself … continued to promote the Shed as being part of the plans for the development,” campaigner Emma Webb then told InDaily.

“The Shed was retained in the government’s own master plan.

“The community, very rightfully, feels that we’ve been conned in this situation.”

Webb said much of Port Adelaide’s working class and waterfront heritage had disappeared.

“A lot of the heritage and character of the inner harbour has been demolished over the last 20 years,” she said.

“Port Adelaide hasn’t been looked after by either side of politics.

Save Shed 26 hired a public relations firm, recruited the support of CFMEU members and began to protest at the site.

In May, Safework SA temporarily stopped work on the site until exposed asbestos had been contained and removed, but the respite was short-lived.

Speirs defended his decision, which he said had not been easy.

“It genuinely has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve made since I became a minister,” he said.

“I wrestled with it for some weeks (and) I extended the time line while I worked through that and met interested parties.

“But at the end of the day I came to the conclusion that this shed down at Port Adelaide just, it was not in the public interest to retain it.”

Photo: Emma Webb

He said refurbishing the building would have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

“There is every chance it could sit there for decades more,” said Speirs.

“If we really wanted to save the building and had a big endless bucket of money to do so, of course that could have happened – but tens of millions of dollars and the possibility that a major development project in Port Adelaide could have fallen over, and that’s what I was faced with.”

Photo: Alex Frayne

Speirs said that after community consultation and expert reports commissioned by Cedar Woods, the developer had advised that retaining Shed 26 was unviable without the State Government tipping in $8.5 million.

“But to actually bring it to life and activated, it could have been tens of millions more,” he said.

“I took that into consideration because while the building has got great character and I could see potential there … from a financial point of view, the risk was just too great.”

The fate of Shed 26 was sealed. Today it is a tangled ruin, soon to be no more.

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

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